“Lawsuit blames Tampa Electric for teen’s fall from pole”

by Walter Olson on June 1, 2011

“Was it a lack of common sense or utility company negligence that prompted a 16-year-old boy to climb a power pole, get shocked and fall 35 feet and into paralysis?” [St. Petersburg Times] Earlier zapped pylon-climbers here, here (also a Tampa Electric case), and here.

{ 17 comments }

1 Alan K. Henderson 06.01.11 at 2:41 am

The lawsuit, for damages in excess of $15,000, calls Tampa Electric Co. negligent for not blocking access to the pole or warning people of its dangers.

Ever see a little kid try to climb department store shelves when the parent’s not looking? I did once. Do shelves need anti-toddler barriers?

What kind of utility pole barrier would be effective against teenagers? A lot of ‘em are wiry enough to climb on top of whatever barrier the city could devise. They could always go the psyops route – repel the kids from the area with a bulhorn playing “MacArthur Park” and William Shatner covers.

2 marco73 06.01.11 at 6:22 am

This sad story has been in the news on and off for a while. The lawyer and the family go out of therir way to portray the young man as a great kid, a bright student, an eagle scout, an avid photographer, etc, then in the next breath a child who didn’t understand that electric power poles have electric power lines that may have, you know, electric power in them. The case will go to a jury, the family will be awarded a large amount, then they will settle with TECO for a smaller amount. It won’t change the fact that one moment of inattention has altered this young man’s life forever.

3 Mannie 06.01.11 at 8:36 am

TECO should send the family a bill for the power the kid used.

4 Ron Miller 06.01.11 at 10:34 am

Everyone has their opinion on these things. Personally, without much evidence, it does not sound like a viable case. But, Mannie, your comment is three steps past inappropriate. Everyone feels bad for this child, right? Regardless of your opinion on whether he has a viable claim, it is a kid climbing a pole, hardly an evil act but any stretch.

I think the odds that a nice person fires off this quip about a paralyzed kid is about the same as Dominique Strauss-Kahn hosting The View next week.

5 Mike 06.01.11 at 10:39 am

I felt bad for the kid, until he filed this lawsuit, then it went away.

6 John Rohan 06.01.11 at 11:09 am

The lawsuit, for damages in excess of $15,000, calls Tampa Electric Co. negligent

It really doesn’t sound like the family is very confident about their own lawsuit. They boy lost and arm and is paralyzed from the waist down, according to the article. I’m sure his medical bills and future care run to a hell of a lot more than 15,000. If they were so certain they had a case, I’m sure they would ask for a hell of a lot more money. 15K is more like what you would get from a “nuisance” payment to make someone go away. I guess their strategy was to make it clear that Tampa Electric would have to spend more money fighting the lawsuit than to make one nuisance payment.

7 Mannie 06.01.11 at 11:19 am

@Ron Miller

I’m not a nice person. Idiots should not be compensated for their idiocy, nor for endangering others. The mope is a Darwin wannabe. Better luck next try.

8 Ron Miller 06.01.11 at 11:36 am

John, 15k is just a form pleading. Clearly, they are seeking millions of dollars.

Mannie, you follow-up comment adds a good deal of clarity to you and your position. Thanks.

9 Jim Collins 06.01.11 at 11:46 am

So what if the power company had placed an “anti-climbing” device on the pole and the kid was hurt because of it? It is a no win situation for the power company.

10 Jack Wilson 06.01.11 at 3:15 pm

Sending the parents a bill would also send a message to other parents to teach their kids to stay away from utility poles.

11 Mike 06.01.11 at 3:28 pm

@ Ron,
You seem to doubt this is a “viable” claim.
That’s not the right question. Just because the law allows such a claim to proceed doesnt mean its the right thing to do.
The utility company is not at fault here, end of story.

The major problem with our legal system is we make claims like this “viable”.

12 Ron Miller 06.01.11 at 7:58 pm

Mike, what exactly do you propose?

I think we are using different definitions of “viable claim.”

As for my condemning the hairbrained idea of billing the parents for the utilities, that was kinda bait for all the reasonable people to jump up and agree with me. Surely, everyone would jump on my softball platitude about how we should not be vengeful towards a paralyzed 16 year-old boy.

Ah, that did not happen. Wrong group today. I best mosey along.

13 Bill Poser 06.01.11 at 11:18 pm

Mike@The kid didn’t file the suit. His parents did.

All@Every power pole that I have ever seen is devoid of steps until well above the reach of a normal person. Without a ladder, special equipment, or very long arms and great strength, there is no way to climb such a pole. This practice in-and-of-itself constitutes an anti-climbing measure.

14 marco73 06.02.11 at 6:31 am

I don’t believe that there is much of a case here. The child is 16, and if they have lived in Florida for more that a couple months, they are aware of the hazards of power lines. Tampa Bay is the lightening capitol of the world – we have thunderstorms blow up almost any time of the year. We teach our kids to stay away from fallen trees, since there may be live wires tangled in the branches. As previous commentators have pointed out, to get up on a 35 foot pole and touch some wires takes some considerable doing.
Saying that, you also have the classic badly injured person suing a faceless corporation. It doesn’t take much of a stretch to believe that a jury will feel great sympathy towards the family and award a large sum, just a “small fraction of a percent” of the income of the corporation.
I don’t think awarding any money is right, but that is the way I’d bet.

15 gitarcarver 06.02.11 at 10:29 am

Bill,

The article does say that the pole was askew and a nearby tree had grown to the point where access was easier.

I happen to be a customer of Florida Power and Light, (FPL) and as a property manager, I have had some experience with their tree trimming crews.

Unless the growth in question interferes with the line – not the pole, the actual power lines – FPL won’t touch the vine or the tree. If and when they do trim a tree, they will only trim the side facing the power lines.

The reason? Liability issues and lawsuits. FPL nor their contractors do not want people at risk from falls or a slip of the chainsaw than they have to be. Property owners have sued FPL in the past for cutting trees away from the lines, and then “rounding” or balancing the shape of the tree saying that FPL had no legal right to trim the tree. FPL now just trims the part that hangs over the line’s right of way.

The last time I called FPL about a tree in a line, they sent a guy out to look at it. He said “yep…. there is a tree in the line…… we’ll get back to you.”

The next person was an arborist, who determined that the tree was alive, and could be pruned. (This was to comply with a county ordinance.) Next to appear was a tree trimming crew supervisor. He determined that his crew could not get a cherry picker truck close enough to the tree. (This despite the fact that the previous month, a power outage had necessitated an FPL cherry picker truck to get to the same area. Same trucks… different results.)

The supervisor recommends that FPL move some of the lines that are in the way of the cherry picker getting to the tree.

FPL comes out and moved the line but now the lines go through the palm fronds of the tree.

A few days later, the fronds catch fire. The local Fire Department comes out and says “we’ll contact FPL about the situation.”

FPL sends a NEW guy out who says “yep….. there is a line running through the tree. We’ll get back to you.”

I ask him what was happening with the other work order for the tree trimming, and he said that by the Fire Department calling the request in, they closed the books on the first one as it was superseded by the FD request.

Next to come out is the arborist, who says that there is no say way to trim the tree because the lines are too close to the upper ball of the tree and if you trim the fronds all the way back, it will kill the tree. He tells FPL they have move the lines.

FPL comes back and moves the lines back to their original position.

The tree contractor comes back and decides that they can’t get in there with a standard truck, so they will need a smaller cherry picker.

Two months later, the tree is trimmed – on one side only.

Total time? About 10 months.

After this, the arborist returns to inspect the tree and he says the tree was pruned improperly.

Ain’t life grand?

16 gasman 06.02.11 at 12:29 pm

” There are no fences around it. The pole was not marked with signs. There are no “anti-climbing” devices on the pole, such as slippery galvanized spikes or barbed wire.”
Coming to Tampa neighborhoods at every utility pole: fences, large signs, anti-climbing devices, and barbed wire. You can thank this family for the new look in your neighborhood.

17 Ron Miller 06.03.11 at 10:39 am

By the way, we have 311 million people in this country. When one of those people files a lawsuit, we all begin to make great assumptions about what it must mean for all of humanity. Can we just once let just a jury verdicts – just one, of course – be our lens to the fall of Western Civilization as the result of litigation as opposed to the filing of a lawsuit? One more rule: there is a 17 year statue of limitations so we can’t use Stella Liebeck. Sorry.

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